Monday, January 27, 2020

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, January 25, 2020 - The Center of Attention

One of my favorite movie scenes is a short bit in the 1958 film “Auntie Mame” when Mame Dennis, played by Rosalind Russell, is working as a temp phone operator for the law firm of Widdecombe, Gutterman, Applewhite, Bibberman and Black. A tongue-twister, to be sure, for any receptionist. She makes a mess of it, of course. Hilarity ensues, 1950’s style.

But the intention of that kind of job is to make connections between one side of a conversation and another so that communication occurs. A synthesis of two ideas merges to become one, continuous, multidimensional thought.

That’s what happens when a connection is made in our brains as well. Two near but separate regions become connected over a single idea. As a result, a physical, literal piece of tiny human tissue, visible only with an advanced microscope, forms in the brain. Like a phone operator taking a wire from one side of a switchboard and plugging it into the other. Connection complete.

These threads are tenuous at first, but definitely real. They can be strengthened over time by merely thinking about the same idea as often as possible. That dedicated synapse becomes stronger and more prominent the longer and more diverse the conversation across it becomes.

This power works both ways, however. Brain tissue does not evaluate the quality or potential harmfulness of your thoughts, it just thinks them. It will create and strengthen whatever synapses you tell it to. Negative thinking builds circuitry the same as positive thinking does.

There’s advice in that. Be careful what you attend to. It boils down to what you are noticing. Noticing better things creates emotionally healthier circuitry. But it also affects the subjects of your observation. That’s a power as well.

There is a theory in physics called the Observer Effect. I would postulate that it has gone beyond the theoretical into the factual realm. But I am no scientist. The theory suggests that when we observe something it inevitably changes. Sometimes these changes are practical and understandable such as when we go down into the deepest parts of the ocean to observe the life down there and must use bright lights in order to accomplish it. That light is unnatural to the environment and placing it there will inevitably create slight changes in the conditions of the environment they are exploring. The rarely-disturbed life forms down there will behave differently around a foreign object, even fish that are blind and cannot sense light. The mere presence of a foreign body making foreign sounds and emitting foreign smells and tastes into the water will inevitably alter our ability to experience the environment as if it were undisturbed. It is impossible to know what an unobserved subject behaves like.

The phenomenon is not limited to scientific observation. It is a fractal of our reality which occurs in every aspect of our lives and world. We must satisfy ourselves with the fact that our attention alone makes unalterable changes to our environments, and to our brains as well.

Paying attention to something—noticing it—completes a brain circuit. It either builds or strengthens synapses around the subject of our attention. When something is placed—either by us or someone else—into the center of our attention, things occur.

What are you paying attention to? And what are the effects of that attention?

Even in the world of quantum physics we know that observation and expectations affect outcomes at the atomic level. The famed double-slit experiment, which you may research on your own, demonstrates as much. Since we are made of atoms, might it be true that our expectations and observations alter outcomes as well?

How is it that simply by noticing something it changes? I don’t know. But I know it’s happening nonetheless. I believe in the conclusions of the double-slit experiment. Attention changes outcomes. If we assume that is a natural and perhaps universal occurrence, where else is it occurring? And what if we attended to things on purpose, knowing that our attention alone has significance? What if we stopped attending to things which no longer serve us? What if we turned our cheek from them? What if we chose to build our brain wiring as intentionally as if coding a computer algorithm? Are there truly effects on both the viewer as well as the viewed? Yes.

I had a great professor in seminary. She literally pointed our attention to the act of attention itself. I enrolled in her class on the subject of attention because I felt it would serve as a valuable perspective on my ADHD. I wasn’t sure what it had to do with theology, but I was open to the experience.

I was wrong about the impact it might make on my brain’s attentional deficits, but I learned a great deal about the power of the spotlight, the microscope, and the focus of prayer and love.

When applying all these ideas together it suggests we have an ability within us to concentrate loving energy on any subject or idea we choose. As well, we are affected by the things we observe and in what frame of mind we observe them.

As an article of faith, accept the fact that you are an instrument of magic. You have only but to look at something and it shall grow or wither. Your brain will do the same. And while it may take determination and faith to use the power wisely, your presence and attention shall nonetheless move mountains. Mark my words.

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